Mike Kemp was the most influential columnist ever to grace the pages of "SAM35Speaks". His first Rubber Column appeared anonymously in Feb '82 but the secret author was revealed the following month to our complete surprise.
Mike went on to champion vintage rubber free-flight in its purest form, competition flying. He alone, took more people to the edge of their flying envelope than any other contributor. Vintage Wakefield flying became commonplace under his tutelage and he later developed a new competitive class for small rubber powered models, since universally transformed into Mini-Vintage now including Power and Glider Models.
He showed Samlanders the “Fear Factor” where "Safe" ended and “Crazy” began. Some pupils mistakenly took to winding their Wakefield motors to destruction without the protection of blast tubes. This was indeed the "Crazy Rubber Band" and he became my hero and mentor long before retiring undefeated with a magnificent one hundred columns during which time he set the gold standard for all "Speaks" contributors.
Flying Faces No 5 Mike Kemp
During the ‘80's much enthusiasm was generated by Mike's innovative approach to holding meaningful competitions. One such was known as the "Chobham Trophy", paradoxically always held on Vintage Day at Old Warden where Vintage Wakes were mass launched after a fixed period for preparation with the winner declared as the "highest after 45 secs". It didn't take long for competitors to realize that a 60 sec motor run was not going to be competitive so we all increased our motor X-section usually to 16 strands of 1/4" rubber to get maximum height benefit under the rules. Bear in mind that in the early days of this competition only high initial torque Black FAI was available so many flights were extremely spectacular. Even so carnage was rare and mid-air collisions even rarer. It was truly a spectator's delight with much whooping and applause from the assembled audience. A show stopper, "par excellence".
Mike also introduced lightweight rubber competitions at the delightful Cotswold farm venue, Cocklebarrow Farm. He ran two classes for folding and freewheeling propellers and it became common-place for participants to build models for both classes and put in a full six qualifying flights over the somewhat difficult terrain. He was also responsible for organizing SAM35's Vintage Wakefield events held for many years at the SMAE UK Nationals until he handed the baton to a successor. In close association with the Southern Area SMAE he also ran a long sequence of vintage competitions at RAF Odiham. At the mention any of these venues, we all associate Mike with them.
Those still being run today are the legacies of a key part of the SAM35 scene between the early '80's and late '90's until, for various reasons, waning support, loss of venue, etc, some of them faded. Despite setbacks he recently regenerated interest in innovative small field competition with his autumn bashes at Portmeadow, Oxford held along similar lines to the earlier Cocklebarrow Farm events. Along with his creative and organizational abilities it should not be forgotten, Mike was also a prodigious competitor in Wakefield and Lightweight classes and for many years, always the man to beat. If all this was not enough, he continued to make individual contributions to "SAM35Speaks" and was a regular and informative writer in many of the 14 SAM35 Year Books produced since ‘82. One might be fooled into thinking that these significant contributions would have been his primary "labour of love" but apparently his foremost hobby was Vintage Motor Cycle Restoration and Racing. Just think what he could have achieved if he had only taken model airplanes even more seriously!!! What a man???
As always, high profile fliers attract anecdotal comments about their derring-do and I recall, at Cocklebarrow Farm, Mike had an unusual “Senator” experience when his model got away and flew across the A40 into a massive bank of trees. No way was this model coming down by itself and it didn’t. He even made a 150 mile round trip to Bedford to borrow my retrieval poles, but to no avail. Sometime later, at work, he was bemoaning this loss to his line manager, who duly announced he used to be a tree surgeon (or some such) in a former life and still had all the gear. Thus, they repaired to the scene of the crime, some 50 miles away, and the model was duly retrieved. As a result, Mike claimed to be the only person ever to send his supervisor up a tree to rescue a model airplane. Me? I only ever drove my supervisors up the wall! What fun?
Now, sadly, Mike has been defeated by a cruel illness and I feel my life has been diminished by his death because from ‘81 he was a mentor and guiding light through the trials and tribulations of our adventures with the Crazy Rubber Band. He also had amazing physical generosity epitomized when he accompanied me on a four mile trek to retrieve a "Voodoo" Vintage Wakefield after his own model had disintegrated in a raging gale on Woodbury Common in ‘87.
If ever a Samlander deserves recognition in some form by the governing bodies of our ephemeral hobby then it is Mike Kemp because, through his direct and significant contributions, the art of building and flying rubber powered vintage model airplanes has been immeasurably enhanced and whilst The Crazy Rubber Band mourns it's sad loss, our thoughts will be with his wife Ginny, and their sons Martin and Rupert for the heartache they must be suffering at the premature loss of such a lovely person. R.I.P.